EPA asks for comment on new Clean Power Plan options

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, October 29, 2014

U.S. EPA air chief Janet McCabe today asked for public comments on alternative approaches to key parts of the Clean Power Plan, including its near-term targets and the way it treats renewable energy and natural gas.

McCabe told reporters that the notice of data availability (NODA) was mostly “routine” and did not mean EPA was either strengthening or loosening its June 2 proposal for existing power plants.

“I want to emphasize that the NODA does not change the proposal we put out in June, it simply discusses some key ideas that we’ve been hearing from a diverse set of stakeholders,” she said, adding that the agency does not expect to extend its Dec. 1 deadline for public comment to allow extra time to comment on the newNODA.

The agency also released a proposal for existing power plants on tribal lands, which will affect generating units owned by three Native American tribes. Comment will be accepted on it through Dec. 19.

But while McCabe said the NODA document would not result in a less stringent proposal, it seems to signal that EPA is considering eliminating its interim reduction target, which is set to phase in beginning in 2020. Industry and many states have called for a more gradual “glide path” that would give utilities additional years to make reductions ahead of the rule’s final 2030 deadline.

EPA solicited comments on options offered by stakeholders, including a proposal to allow credit for early reductions that would allow utilities to phase in their emissions cuts more slowly between 2020 and 2029. Another option would allow reductions from increased use of natural gas to phase in more gradually than the original proposal, treating them more like renewable energy and demand-side efficiency.

The interim goal has been described as a regulatory “cliff” by many stakeholders, who note that in many cases it requires steeper reductions than the eventual 2030 target. But environmentalists have said the early reductions are important to control warming and to keep the United States on track to meet its international climate commitments.

“The interim period from 2020 to 2029 was intended to provide a transition toward that final compliance date,” McCabe said on the call. “There are a number of ideas that people have raised about how to do that that would not affect the stringency of the rule.”

The NODA also solicits comments on alternative ways of applying the rule’s “building blocks” that EPA uses to set state carbon intensity targets — specifically, the ramping up of natural gas and renewable energy to replace coal-fired generation.

The document tests stakeholder comments that utilities could glean deeper cuts in carbon dioxide by using even more gas than the June 2 draft suggests. It also cites an alternative “regional approach to establishing renewable energy targets.” Stakeholders have argued that the original proposal was not clear enough about which state would be credited for renewable energy — the state that produces it or the state that consumes it.

“The markets for renewable energy are not located within single states,” McCabe noted, adding that the NODA looks at alternatives that might better track with “how these markets actually work.”

Finally, the NODA offers data on state utility-sector emissions in 2010 and 2011. The proposal uses 2012 data only when setting a base line for emissions in each state, but many states have said that year was not representative and that EPA should instead rely on a range of years in calculating base lines.

The proposal for tribal lands would affect four Native American-owned power plants: the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona, the Four Corners Power Plant in New Mexico, the Bonanza Power Plant in Utah and the Fort Mojave South Point Energy Center in Arizona.

The goals are based on data provided by tribal governments, and a public hearing will be held in Phoenix on Nov. 19.